Chicago’s Reservation Blues conveniently located very near the holy trinity of Damen, North & Milwaukee does not fit the stereotype of an old-style blues bar. The walls are red brick, with photographs and album covers hung with great care adorning the walls, and shucks, it wasn’t even that smoky (thank goodness). Of course, the pics and LP covers were of a hardly traditional/stereotypical bluesman, namely, the Breezy Burg’s own Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater.
The Chief reminds me somewhat of Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown: where some blues players come on all dark-nite-of-the-soul menacing, slick or go overboard on the let-the-goodtimes-roll shtick, both fellows come across like thoughtful, slightly irreverent (though not joke-y), eclectic and down-to-earth musicians whose aim is to provide an exuberant time for all. Whereas Brown mixes his Texas blues with country music (he and Hee-Haw’s Roy Clark did a very good album together in 1979, Makin’ Music), swing and Cajun styles, The Chief takes Chicago’s West Side blues cocktail (a somewhat more genial yet more stinging ‘n’ modern variant on the South Side Sound) and spikes it with swing (1998’s Cool Blues Walk, on Rounder/Bullseye Blues), country and rockabilly. Clearwater’s latest platter Rock & Roll City (also Rounder), in point of fact, was recorded with America’s Most Popular Instrumental Rock Combo, the fabulous Los Straitjackets. Both have great taste in hep headwear: The Chief was his Native American headdress, the Los S’j’s with their Mexican Wrestling Federation Masks. Knowledge of this will no doubt raise the hackles of blues purists, and I don’t think The Chief is losing sleep over it at all. Off stage and on, he exudes confidence, and so does his band, especially guitarist Mark Wydra, who plays Eric Clapton/Albert King to The Chief’s Magic Sam/B.B. King which is to say Mr. Wydra has the just-shy-of-over-the-top, demonstrative Dazzling Guitar Ace sound to Clearwater’s judicious, wiry, sharp, Magic Sam-esque sting, and it makes for nice contrast, especially since both guys seem to be having such fun with it (as opposed to looka-me-outplay-you jizz). Clearwater mixed country n’ rockabilly-tinged rockin’ tunes from his latest with blues, and the crowd ate it up with a spoon. If memory swerves, The Chief is touring soon if you got the blues (as in a bushel of glums), miss him at your peril.